Grassroots music venues make open plea to government for financial support
- Credit: Zig Criscuolo
Grassroots music venues in Hackney have warned they could face closure without a government support package.
30 independent music venues in Hackney have signed an open letter urging the government to provide an immediate £50 million financial support package and reduction in VAT on future ticket sales.
The letter forms part of a nationwide campaign set up by the charity Music Venue Trust to save up to 90 per cent of the music venue industry from closure due to the coronavirus lockdown.
“It’s not looking great for live music at the moment,” said Steve Dix, owner of Hackney Central’s Paper Dress Vintage.
More businesses are set to open on July 4 as lockdown eases but government guidance announced on June 23 states “venues should not permit live performances”, including music, to take place in front of a live audience.”
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The government says the measures play an important role in mitigating the risks of transmission but it means many grassroots venues, already struggling from the shutdown in March, have been left awaiting further guidance.
Pete Bennett, co-manager of Hackney Wick community hub and live music venue Grow Hackney, said: “Our main attraction is our live events and we put on 200 or so a year.
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“It’s a huge industry and I don’t really think the government understands the nature of it.”
Pete says restrictions on the number of patrons a venue can service based on the recently adjusted “1 metre-plus” rule will likely massively reduce the capacity of venues in the borough, making it much harder to turn a profit or break even.
He wonders how business owners will be able to pay rent and hopes the government recognises how important grassroots music venues are to Britain’s economy, its culture and local communities.
Venues like Paper Dress Vintage are having to adapt their business models.
Owner Steve Dix is launching a new outdoor space called Paper Dress Yard with a table booking service.
He said: “We’ve completely changed our business to try and get some money into it but we have got the luxury of flexibility and outdoor space. Not all venues are so lucky.”
Steve says the UK is “an outlier” in terms of its lack of financial support for the arts industry.
Germany has lead the way in culture aid providing €1 billion to the sector and French President Emmanuelle Macron has doled out funds “to defend European creativity” as have many other countries hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In March, the government provided a £160 million emergency response package to support the UK’s cultural sector in response to the Covid-19 crisis.
“There’s quite a number of examples of governments who are putting their hands in their pockets and recognise that the arts industry is being particularly badly affected.
“But in the UK reopening the live music sector seems to be right at the back of the queue.
“If the government needs us to be closed, it is not realistic for us to sit on our hands forever. Everyone’s got rent to pay and outgoings and there’s a very real chance of a complete collapse of the live music industry which would be a travesty.”
Paula Van Hagan, Director at the iconic Chats Palace in Homerton compared the money needed to save 560 music venues across the country with the £120m put aside for the government’s “Festival of Britain” planned for 2022.
“We’re not asking for a lot of money and grassroots venues are a great income generator for the treasury - we employ thousands of people.
“It would be devastating for Hackney if 30 music venues closed before the end of the year”
If the government does not offer a support package to the industry Paula says it “would be cutting it off at its knees”.
Others like owner of The Victoria in Dalson, Nick Letchford, have been left dealing with the difficult choice of reopening his business or losing it and shielding himself and others from the virus.
Nick suffers from an underlying health condition which heightens the risk of severe Covid-19 reaction if he contracts the disease.
He says government support would relieve the pressure he feels to reopen despite safety concerns and not having the funds to do so.
“We feel the government are washing their hands of all responsibility for our sector.”
Culture Secretary Oliver Downden recently (June 25) presented a “roadmap” for reopening UK’s performing arts venues dismissed as “meaningless” by theatre unions.
At the government’s daily coronavirus briefing on June 17 he talked about the enormous challenges live venues face.
Mr Dowding said: ““Over the past few weeks and months I have been talking extensively and intensively with people across the UK’s cultural centre to try and find a way through these issues.
“An important part of all of this is to get performances up and running. We have made a lot of progress through the Cultural Renewal Task Force and the entertainment and events working group which sits within that. However, it is clear from all of this that we do need greater flexibility to overcome some of the very specific and practical obstacles for the return of live performance.”
Hackney residents are asked to contact local MPs in support of grassroots venues.
To contact your MP visit www.writetothem.com
They also ask people to post their last live show before lockdown on July 2 using the hashtag #letthemusicplay
For more information on the Music Venue Trust’s open letter click here.
To sign the Music Venue’s Trust’s petition to cancel The Festival of Britain and use the funds to support the grassroots venue industry click here.
Donate to Chats Palace click here
For more information about Grow Hackney click here
Donate to The Victoria click here
Donate to Paper Dress Vintage here